With the coronavirus outbreak putting a halt on elective medical procedures, many orthodontic practices are looking for guidance as to the smartest ways to move forward with their marketing strategy.
When you’re unable to meet with patients due to lockdown orders, business as usual is unfortunately not an option. Much in the same way, only a strategy compatible with shifts in consumer behavior will help you minimize negative effects of the pandemic on your practice and maximize your success over the long term.
To help set up your practice for success, below are some of the industry trends you should be aware of, as well as a few recommendations for adjusting your marketing strategy and focusing on long-term stability.
Search Trends & Campaign Performance
It probably comes as no surprise that fewer people are actively seeking out orthodontists right now, due to many states implementing stay-at-home orders and ordering only “essential” businesses to stay open.
Overall search interest for orthodontists was consistent over the past 12 months, but declined at the beginning of March and have since flattened at a level below average.
Google search interest for the term “orthodontist” from April 2019 – Mar 2020
Also, as shown in the graph below, there has been a sharp decline in search interest for “braces” and “clear aligners” since the start of March, right when businesses were starting to close. Search rates have flattened out since March 21st.
Google search interest for the “braces” (blue) and “clear aligners” (red) from Jan – Mar 2020
However, perhaps as a result of limitations on physical visits, we have seen large increases for some specific terms involving clear aligners and other non-traditional orthodontic devices.
We’ve also seen an uptick in interest for emergency orthodontists. If your practice is equipped to handle procedures that are deemed essential for the health or well-being of a patient, most states have said they will allow orthodontists to open their doors and schedule appointments in emergency circumstances.
“Emergency Orthodontist” Google search interest from March 2019 – March 2020
Of course, the large majority of orthodontists’ work is elective, meaning an overall downturn in search interest was likely. However, it’s important to remember that these declines are only temporary — life will return to normal, and widespread interest in orthodontic services is expected to resume to more regular activity.
In light of the current health crisis, many orthodontists have decided to focus on the short term, suspending their marketing campaigns. Amidst cash flow issues, cost-saving decisions like these are understandable. However, it should be noted that when marketing is stopped, three things tend to happen:
- When you drastically cut your marketing budget, you become less visible online, which means you’re less likely to get new appointments now (for the services you’re able to perform), as well as also less likely to fill your calendar with book-ahead appointments.
- When you’re not visible online, you’re not top-of-mind to potential patients. That means your competitors will have an easier time stealing those patients away when they eventually start researching their options and scheduling appointments again.
- Reduced competition typically results in a drop in advertising costs, giving orthodontists who continue their campaigns an opportunity to make their marketing budget go further than ever. From February to March, we saw a 103% increase in conversion rates for our orthodontic campaigns, as well as the lowest cost-per-lead numbers we’ve seen yet — a drop of more than 170% when compared to February.
With huge amounts of time being spent online and other brands bowing out of the running, the long-term outlook suggests that maintaining a strong online presence is the smartest strategy for future growth. What’s more, costs could spike as lockdown orders are lifted and competitors clamor to make up for the revenue they’ve lost in the past few weeks. This means that the immediate future presents a strong opportunity for orthodontists to increase their visibility and capture mindshare with potential patients.
How orthodontists are adapting to changing circumstances
News reports and our own research have shown that many orthodontists are getting creative when coming up with ways to continue doing business with their patients, despite the limiting factors at play.
A number of the orthodontic practices we serve at Scorpion have started receiving calls from people who want to book appointments in the coming months, in an effort to beat the inevitable rush of patients who will need orthodontic services as soon as possible once lockdown orders are lifted. Consider speaking to this benefit when interacting with current patients, or even offering incentives to new ones who choose to book in advance.
In a recent Scorpion webinar where we brought together medical practices to discuss how they’re dealing with COVID-19, one orthodontist shared that even though he has been unable to serve patients in his office, he has started posting maintenance tips and reminders on social media to maintain a sense of comfort and connection with his patients. These tactics can help give patients the feeling that their treatment is ongoing.
Consider creating similar content for your practice. You may also want to offer one-on-one videoconference consultations for patients who need a simple consultation or check-up.
Other orthodontists have come up with their own innovations in the face of unprecedented obstacles. One New York orthodontic office has embraced telehealth to give recommendations via virtual visits, as well as developed a remote onboarding process for new patients. Others have introduced “curbside” and mail-order delivery for new plastic aligners or rubber bands.
Creative strategies for your practice to serve patients may not be immediately apparent, but if you find ways to capitalize on shifting consumer behaviors and trends, your practice will be in a much better position for success over the long run.
Takeaways for Practice Owners
Despite current obstacles, orthodontic practice owners who maintain an online presence and take advantage of opportunities to build their brands will be the ones who find the most success following the COVID-19 crisis. To sum up our findings, here are a few takeaways you can use to get through the challenges presented by COVID-19 and bring in more business once life returns to normal.
- If it makes financial sense for your practice, maintain a marketing budget. Rather than enacting short-term cost-saving measures, build a plan that boosts your practice’s brand recognition and sets up a long-term pipeline of patients. Several marketing channels have exploded in usage (Facebook usage was 53% higher than ever before in March) and have experienced declines in advertising costs due to decreased competition.
- Keep communicating with patients and let them know you’re here to help. Find ways to be a resource through blog posts, social media posts, email newsletters, and other forms of content that help patients keep up with their care when they can’t make an appointment.
- Get creative and demonstrate expertise. Show your prospective and existing patients that you’re willing to go the extra mile to get them the care and answers they need in stressful times. Consciously or otherwise, people who need an orthodontist down the line will remember who was there to help them.
If you have any questions about the information shared above or about specific steps you can take for your practice during the coronavirus pandemic, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. You can also check out our COVID-19 resource page for additional insights.